It’s a commonly held belief that poor vision is merely a sign of aging, but in many cases, symptoms may be signs of more serious treatable conditions. Early symptom identification can prevent or stop the progression of such diseases, allowing you to maintain vision quality for as long as possible. The key to avoiding these diseases is understanding some of the possible causes.
Common Eye Diseases
Three of the most common diseases found in senior patients are Cataracts, Macular Degeneration, and Glaucoma. These diseases each present a different group of effects and symptoms, making your knowledge of the differences between them an important guide to the best treatment.
As we near 40 years of age, protein clumps can begin to form in the lens of the eye, making it less clear. Vision loss from cataracts cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. The only way to remove a cataract once it has formed is surgically. This procedure is usually painless, “vacuuming” the clumped particles before inserting an artificial lens. Most patients are given a choice of monofocal or premium lenses, and post-surgical vision is often dramatically improved.
Modern experts define glaucoma as a neurological disorder stemming from nerve cell degeneration in the brain rather than referring to it as disease of the eye. Past treatment was focused on lowering pressure in the eye, once charged with the damage commonly associated with the disease.
If left untreated, glaucoma may cause blindness. The disease is often very subtle initially, and many patients are unaware that they have it. Slow progression and very few symptoms make it hard for patients to recognize the condition. Most often, damage is restricted to peripheral vision during the early stages, a symptom that can be easy to ignore. Most treatments include eye drops or surgery to promote better circulation in the eye. There are also some experimental options being exercised.
Repetitive damage to the macula, a tiny area near the center of the retina, destroys central vision and diminishes the ability to read fine print or perform detailed work with your hands. After the age of 50, this disease is referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD appears in two ways, often referred to as “dry” or “wet”. The dry form usually progresses slowly over several years. Approximately 10% of such cases will progress to the wet form, a more aggressive version of the disease often identified by blood and fluid leaking from the macula. This form can cause vision loss, progressing rapidly within weeks or months.
There is no cure for AMD, but antibody therapies and high potency antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements have been recommended by physicians and the National Eye Institute. These treatments can be helpful for patients with advanced AMD.
Protect Your Vision
While many of the diseases that can cause vision loss in seniors are difficult to treat or reverse once symptoms appear, there are ways to prevent vision-related diseases before they strike:
Smokers are particularly prone to diseases related to the eyes and commonly show early signs of cataracts. Smokers are also more likely to suffer from age-related macular degeneration.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Including spinach, walnuts, salmon, berries, and other foods in your diet that have high antioxidant levels can prevent and slow the development of eye diseases.
Protecting your eyes from the sun and from UV rays can help you to avoid developing cataracts and prevent damage to the retina.
See An Eye Doctor
Maintain a regular schedule with your optometrist. During your 40s, plan to visit your doctor every 2-4 years; seniors over 55 should schedule an examination every 1-3 years; you may need to visit more often after 65.
Keep an eye on your vision and watch out for symptoms – keep your eyes healthy for as long as possible!